Last month, I turned 37 years old. In that time I’ve started a multi-million dollar company, traveled around the world, made a living playing cards, and met many wonderful, inspiring people along the way.
Life has been a hell of a ride so far, but what have I learned during all this time? To answer this question, I decided to write down the top 5 lessons Life has taught me about success. If you like this list, please share your own top lessons in the comments.
1. Be Comfortable with Uncertainty
I was so much smarter in my 20s… or so I thought. Everything seemed much simpler back then, and I knew all the answers.
Life has a funny way of humbling these beliefs.
At 20, I was convinced I would be a successful lawyer. When I was 25, I knew I would stay married. When I was 30, I thought my gaming business would quickly grow into a 100+ person company.
Eventually, I realized that at every point in my life at least one of my fundamental beliefs was dead wrong. And it often took me less than 5 years to totally turn one of those beliefs around!
Because of that, I finally accepted that I can’t be certain of my beliefs. In fact, I can be certain that many of them are wrong! Once I accepted this, my life got much better.
Comfort with uncertainty makes you more compassionate when talking to people you disagree with. It gives you flexibility to adapt to new situations. Most importantly, it allows you to stop clinging so hard to how you think things “Should be.”
Certainty is the enemy of growth. If you are certain of something, you close your mind to other possibilities. If you are never certain, you are always learning. And learning is the path to growth and success.
2. Learn from Your Mistakes
Now that you know you will be wrong, the next step is to become less wrong as quickly as possible.
I paid my way through college by playing a card game called Magic: The Gathering. I traveled around the world to play in tournaments against very smart, very competitive opponents. During that time, I won several big tournaments, but lost many more. I lost matches worth tens of thousands of dollars because of mistakes I made.
One of the most important factors in my competitive success was how I treated my losses. Each loss burned itself into my brain as a lesson on what not to do in the future.
Rather than complain about how I “got unlucky” in a match, I would focus on the behaviors that put me in that position. One by one, Each loss/lesson made me a better player.
I’ve since made countless mistakes in each aspect of my life- business, relationships, you name it. But I keep the lesson from my Magic playing days close to heart and look at each mistake as an opportunity to learn.
Everyone makes mistakes. Champions don’t repeat them.
3. Success Won’t Make You Happy
We spend a lot of time trying to find happiness in external achievements.
All of us have had thoughts in the form of: “If I could just get a... (house/promotion/spouse/etc.), then I’ll be happy.” We all believe that if we could just achieve that thing then everything would be ok.
If you are fortunate enough to get some of your “What ifs” then you realize that they aren’t what is going to make you happy - only you can do that.
I spent years chasing accomplishment (Ivy league degree, tournament championships, CEO of my own company, etc.) driven by fear of being a failure and not living up to the expectations of others.
While my fear led me to achieve great things, none of those things ever lead me to a feeling of peace. No matter what I achieved, there was always another hill to climb. It was only after taking a hard look at myself with the help of some amazing mentors that I was able to see that the things I wanted were right in front of me.
You are Worthy.
Let me say that again, because it is easy to ignore.
We are all flawed.
We all make mistakes.
We are all struggling with the same realities of impermanence, death, and loss.
In spite of all this, however, we are all worthy of love and respect, regardless of our external achievements. Eventually, every accomplishment will fade and every relationship will end. Your worth as an individual can’t depend on these temporary things. We are all conscious beings doing our best to make sense of an uncertain world. This is the simplest truth, but often the hardest one to accept: You are here and that alone is enough.
In my best moments, I am content no matter what I have even as I work towards exciting and meaningful goals.
4. Work Hard
If success won’t make you happy, why work towards anything? I had this same question. My fear of being “not enough” drove me to succeed in school, start a company, and get in shape. Is there any motivation without this drive to find happiness through accomplishment? Would I still be able to succeed in the world without insecurity driving me?
The secret to achievement without insecurity, is to change your relationship to hard work. Work is not something you do primarily to earn money or to prove something (though it can still do both). Work is how you take what is awesome about you and bring it to the rest of the world.
Work is your gift. Work translates your visions and goals into reality. If you can find goals that inspire you, even hard work isn’t a chore- it is an expression of who you are.
Even work you don’t like can be viewed through the lens of your greater vision. What is your current work teaching you? If you are just working for money right now, how can that money help you to your true contribution? What relationships can you build to enrich your life? How are the challenges you face making you stronger?
Find something you want to contribute to and let that vision drive you forward. Be pulled by love more often than you are pushed by fear.
5. There are No Adults
When I started my first job in the gaming industry, I was nervous. I had never worked in a game company… hell, I had never worked at any company… and I didn’t know if I would be any good. I studied whatever I could about design and I worked hard, following the directives of my superiors..
Soon I was able to rise up the ranks in the company, and I saw how decisions were made. And I realized something incredible - Everyone is just making it up as they go along! Nobody had any idea what they were doing! This was a multi-million dollar company, decades old, and it was being run by gut instinct and internal politics.
My first reaction to this realization was fear. Without an “adult” to take charge, how will we know the right thing to do? What if we mess up?
After taking some time to think, my second reaction was elation. If no one know what they are doing, then I might as well decide what to do for myself. I can not know what I’m doing at least as well as the next guy. Suddenly, I had permission to take charge of my own destiny. Within a year, I quit the company and started my own. And I’ve never been happier.
Where in your life are you still waiting for permission? Where in life do you hold back because of something outside yourself? The path to success can only begin when you take ownership of everything that happens in your life. If you can accept uncertainty, work hard, and learn from your mistakes, then you are ready to author of your own destiny.
(pictures above sourced from pixabay.com)
Hi, I’m Justin!
I love reading, writing, dancing, meditating, learning, and helping others. I play and make games for a living. Learn more about me here.